A new study shows that forty percent of police officers have a sleep disorder, at least double the rate estimated among the general public. Those with trouble sleeping were more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
One-third of the more than 600 Philadelphia police officers who participated in the survey had obstructive sleep apnea, the most common of the sleep disorders.
“From the public’s point of view, one of the findings that concerned us most was that those who had a sleep disorder had a much higher rate, about 25 percent higher, of expressing uncontrolled anger toward suspects or citizens,” said Dr. Charles Czeisler, an author of the study and chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “And 35 percent higher odds of having a citizen complaint filed against them.”
Nationwide, one in four police officers reported falling asleep behind the wheel at least one time per month.
The study tracked nearly 5,000 police officers in the U.S. and Canada from 2005 to 2007. Sleep apnea rates among Philadelphia’s police officers were similar to the national average.
In Massachussets, where state police have paid time off to work out and must pass fitness tests, rates of sleep apnea were much lower than average.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the results of the study did not surprise him.
“Until criminals take normal hours we won’t be able to do that either,” Ramsey said. “I certainly can’t say we’re going to put everybody on straight days with weekends off.”
Ramsey said he wants to bolster the department’s wellness program, encouraging exercise and healthier eating to reduce obesity rates. Being overweight is a primary cause of sleep apnea.
Czeisler said the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia has been at the forefront of addressing the sleep needs of its members, a focus dating back to the 1980s when Czeisler worked with the FOP to modify and eventually do away with what he called a “grueling” shift rotation schedule.